Concord council approves funding for mobile opioid response unit

By CAITLIN ANDREWS – Concord Monitor
Thursday, January 17, 2019

For the past two years, Concord’s fire department has been working to get people experiencing a mental health crisis away from a hospital emergency room and into treatment.

That team, in partnership with Riverbend Community Mental Health, doesn’t look too different from an average emergency response: a Concord ambulance arrives at a scene, and an emergency responder quickly evaluates the patient to determine what type of medical attention is needed.

If a patient requires help because of mental health, the responder connects with a Riverbend clinician, and they decide what treatment is most appropriate, like access to medication, a therapist or an inpatient bed.

A federal grant will allow the fire department to create a similar program for people suffering from substance abuse disorders.

The Concord City Council voted to appropriate $127,000 to help pay for the department’s mobile response team Monday night. If the governor and Executive Council approve a multi-million federal grant designed to help first responders combat the opioid crisis, the money will be reimbursed, said Concord fire Deputy Chief Aaron McIntire.

The opioid response team will operate similarly to the mental health team, McIntire said. The response unit may not always be an ambulance, but a responder will still assess the patient for medical needs and appropriate treatment options.

Concord fire will involve its own in-house opioid program manager, a contract employee whose position will be funded through the grant, according to a November report from Concord fire Chief Dan Andrus.

The mobile unit is similar in nature to the “safe stations” model used in Manchester, where people can walk into a fire station at any time and request help in getting connected to recovery services.

But a stationary model wouldn’t work in Concord, McIntire said. The department responds to an average of 9,000 service calls a year, meaning the city’s four fire stations are often empty.

“The grant allows us to put the safe station in a mobile vehicle,” he said. “We’ll be out in and in the community any time they need it.”

The mobile unit is critical in light of the recent rollout of the state’s “hub and spoke” model of addressing the opioid crisis, McIntire said.

Starting Jan. 2, those facing a crisis or interested in getting treatment for substance abuse are able to call 211 and be directed to one of the nine hubs – including Riverbend Community Mental Health, which serves the Concord area.

As awareness of the program spreads, McIntire said more people seeking substance abuse and mental health treatment will come to the city.

The grant money would come from Project First, a program of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. But the funding would only cover about half of the program costs, McIntire said.

The SAMHSA grant was meant to be a three-year program, but the first year was spent setting the program up, meaning grant money for the first year wasn’t available. The department is seeking a waiver that would allow them to access that first-year money and roll it into this year, McIntire said.